Weather: Isolated Thunderstorms threatened, but never happened.
Road Conditions: Dry and twisty, just the way we like `em.
My new Vespa “Rose” and I headed North this past weekend. This was our first long roadtrip together, and I have really been looking forward to it. I wanted to see how my new GTS performed out on the open roads, beyond the suburbs and into the hinterlands of agricultural Minnesota.
Our destination was Sartell, a small town ninety miles away, to visit a fellow scooterist and moto-blogger who calls himself “Roadbum”. He is the proprietor of a little place on the web called “Midwest Scooter Enthusiast”.
The route I planned took us up the Mississippi River, starting with the urban Parkways, and following the county two-lanes all the way to Saint Cloud. From there, we proceeded through contemporary suburban developments to my friend’s tidy split-level home in a nice neighborhood in this very modern small town.
Parking Rose in the driveway, I walked up to the door and rang the bell, wondering what this guy I know only from internet and telephone conversations was going to look like.
Harvey “Roadbum” Binder is a compact fellow, with an oversize personality. After we shook hands, I had to re-tune my mental modem to a higher baud-rate in order to keep up with everything he was telling me. People of my parent’s generation might have called him “high-strung”. I found him fascinating, because he is the kind of guy who won’t tolerate intellectual laziness, and I found myself rising to his challenge in a most enjoyable way.
Within the space of the first hour or so, we had pretty-well covered the subject of modern Vespas, and were beginning to delve into philosophy when Harvey’s wife Annette showed up, coming home from her job as a nuclear medicine techologist. This was our cue to hand over the domestic duties and saddle-up our scooters for a ride around the local landmarks. The poor lady never even had a chance to unwind after work before we went buzzing off over the horizon.
Please accept my apology, Annette. It is only in retrospect that I feel your pain…
What followed was a whirlwind of local roads, mostly sweeping curves and grand vistas. We toured past huge houses built on the shores of local lakes, and farms that had a prosperous, horsey flavour about them. I wasn’t keeping track of the names of the roads, because The Roadbum rides his Vespa LX 150 almost as fast as he talks, and it was all I could do to keep Rose’s headlight in his rearview mirrors.
After awhile, we came upon the Little Rock Boat Works, featured in the two photos above. This place felt, to me, like the legendary Elephant Graveyard of Rudyard Kipling’s novels. This is where the classic old wooden boats go to die… or is it?
No, I believe that Little Rock’s business is to restore these gorgeous old relics back to their former glory, maybe even beyond. I’ll have to make it a point to go back there someday to confirm that.
Rose and Kythera at Stonehouse Tavern and Eatery.
We worked up an appetite on these mostly-deserted country roads, and pretty soon I asked Harvey if he had a dinner stop in mind.
Of course he did. Stonehouse Tavern and Eatery in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, was going to be our refreshment destination for the evening.
Anyway, we parked outside of this modern, sports-bar looking joint, and sure-enough, that’s what it was. Which is to say that the food was adequate, in the “You get what you pay for” -sort of way. I ordered the Mushroom and Swiss Burger, which is usually a safe bet at such places. And it was good, but I’ve had better.
However, looking at the menu now, I notice that they have a wonderful “Steak Michael”, with all of the things I like in a steak.
Maybe Stonehouse will have another chance to impress me in the future? We’ll see…
After dinner, we rambled over some interesting roads on the way back to Harvey’s house. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of the evening’s adventures.
I mean, I was tired, having come over ninety miles on a motorscooter just to get there, and then untold miles exploring the local attractions. While I was picturing the classic “brandy and cigars in front of the fireplace” routine, Mr. Roadbum broke out his huge, world-class collection of air-rifles, in order to test my Marine Corps marksmanship.
Well, this was an offer that I couldn’t refuse…
Once he confirmed that the children were in bed, he set up tiny targets at about nine meters range down the hallway in the basement. Then we proceded to plink at them from the standing-up, “offhand” position.
I swear, I felt like James Bond, coming into the lair of his nemesis, and proving his worthiness in order not to be fed to the sharks in the tank just a foot-switch below the floor he was standing on. For the record here, Harvey was not holding a cat…
So, how did I do? As well as Harvey, with his own guns. That made me feel pretty good. I’m not even going to ask if he was sandbagging me…
Sunday morning, Annette went off to work again. This meant that Harvey and I had to entertain the kids. Let me tell you, these twins Dolan and Christina are delightful little urchins. At four years old, they are past the terrible-twos and into that consciousness where they can really surprise you with their perceptions.
We spent the day shopping for necessities, and doing the First Service on my Vespa, Rose. I had brought a few tools with me, and Harvey had everything else we needed in his well-ordered garage. I had printed the shop manual off of a site on the fabulous Internet, and was able to figure out how to check all of the parameters required.
The hub oil drain plug is located in a ridiculous spot, and getting to it resulted in burning my hand on a hot exhaust pipe. Draining it resulted in oil on my rear brake disc, which took much effort to clean off properly. When the stuff did come out, it was clean and perfect, and didn’t need to be replaced after all. Damned Italians…
But the regular oil change and other checks went like clockwork, and we were ready to ride within about three hours, which is only one hour more than the dealership charges for this operation.
How to say goodbye? Annette was still at work, on-call. Harvey the Roadbum had been the perfect host, and I felt like hanging around, just to enjoy his conversation. But my own family obligations were calling, and I wasn’t even sure which way I was going to ride home.
Have you ever tried to follow a set of directions in reverse? Without electronic assistance? On a piece of paper which you had to repeatedly pull out of the inside pocket of your jacket?
I knew I would need quite some time just to ride home the way I had planned… which was, essentially, no plan at all.
What I had decided to do was to navigate by the sun, riding south and east on country roads until I bumped against a known highway or river, and adjust my course accordingly.
Here’s one for Steve Williams… My scooter Rose, In the Sticks.
Well, Harvey the Roadbum understood this, and I left his place shortly after noon. Let me tell you, this was one of the most interesting rides I’ve ever had. Literally navigating by dead-reckoning, when the sun went behind the clouds, I was lost. In those cases, Rose and I would head towards the nearest watertower on the horizon.
The speed limit was almost always 55 mph. We did that easily. On long, straight sections, where I could see for miles, we stretched that a bit. I can now say with confidence that Rose will top 70 mph. That’s with my 230 lbs seated upright on her back. Not bad…
We made it back to the familiar roads in the Twin Cities, and soon found ourselves on the Parkways which make up Ramble Plan Alpha. Why not? What better way to go home than the route we use almost every day?
Only this time, there was no traffic.